Former president Jacob Zuma’s legal team has accused the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture of harbouring “a deep-seated antipathy” towards their client and “releasing statements that have exposed the former president to political attacks”.
Leader of Zuma’s legal team, Advocate Thabani Masuku, urged the commission’s legal team and its chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, to accept his client’s reasons when his legal team informs the commission that Zuma cannot attend the hearings for whatever reason instead of assuming that they are avoiding the proceedings.
“I would urge that this commission and, particularly the leaders, the legal team, extends to us and our client the presumption of integrity … when we give our word to the commission we mean what we say,” Masuku urged. He added that it is “very embarrassing” to stand here and tell the commission that the former president has a medical condition which prevents him from appearing before it.
He also argued that “there is a deep-seated antipathy towards our client. On what conceivable basis is it proper, is it consistent with the dignity of this commission, to compel Zuma to appear before the commission”.
Zuma’s legal team was aggrieved that last week the commission’s lawyers announced they were preparing to summons him because “of his failure to appear before the commission”.
This after Zuma had failed to attend two scheduled sittings following his initial appearance on July 15 last year.
The commission’s legal team felt that Zuma had not adequately responded to allegations from witnesses who told the inquiry that he was involved in wrongdoing.
Zuma was to appear before the commission between January 27 and 31, but on Saturday his legal team said that he was still too ill to do so. Zuma had previously cited illness and the fact that he would be preparing for his arms deal court case as reasons for his inability to appear before the commission.
Masuku said: “When he [Zuma] says he is not feeling well, he is not playing games.”
He added that the media statement from the commission “invariably exposes him to incredible attacks, [especially] political attacks”.
“The chair must consider a procedure that does not expose witnesses to this kind of attack … its an unpleasant thing,” Masuku said.
Zondo, however, made it clear that there was no assumption on his part that Zuma and his legal team were misleading the commission.
“Last time, when the lawyers for the former president indicated that he was not able to come and appear before the commission because he was not well, the commission did not even ask for a medical certificate. The commission accepted his word, at least I accepted his word,” said Zondo.
Zuma’s lawyers then offered to hand over the medical records that contained his exact illness and the reason he is suffering. Zondo thanked them for offering it “without being compelled to”.
Zondo, however, indicated that he was “reluctant” to find out what the ailment was and said that he just wanted medical confirmation that Zuma could not attend.
Zuma’s legal team maintained that, although they had no reservations in making his medical records available, “any disclosing of Zuma’s medical condition could present a security risk [to the former president]”.
Zondo eventually suggested that the best way to allocate dates for Zuma’s appearance would be for the commission’s legal team to liaise with Zuma’s medical team and find appropriate dates for his appearance.